To the Valley News:
What does it mean to interact affirmatively? Is “affirmative-interaction” (not to be confused with “affirmative action” programs attempting to right the wrongs of a century of slavery in our country) something that if understood better could transform all of the existing systems that make up our culture, for example, in our workplaces, in our schools, and even in our politics? I spent almost five years studying that question (and yes, I sometimes wonder how that could have taken up so much of my life), and my answer is a resounding, “YES.”
Would affirmative interaction be something like love? Christ said to love your neighbor as you love yourself; in His words, the second most important commandment. I know little about Islam, but in conversation with those who do, I am told that it is their second most important commandment, also, to love your neighbor. In Jon Stewart’s words, “wait a minute, maybe we are onto something here?” Most of us would say we know what it means to love, yes? So, how come something so important is so often left out of the equation in our regular work lives, our political skirmishes, and even often in our daily family lives?
Maybe, if we had a much clearer picture of what it would explicitly look like to introduce love on a minute by minute basis, we could “love” more and begin to transform our culture, bottom up. In South Africa, indigenous folks live by what they call “Ubuntu.” I am not saying that this is a commandment, necessarily, just something that they DO in their culture all the time, which in essence means to do everything that we can do, first, to make sure that each individual is included and taken care of, BEFORE going on about our business, individually or in groups. I took upon myself to study the proposition that the more we practice affirmative interaction, the more positive our relationships will be in small groups, and so all the MORE we will do affirmative interaction. In other words, we would be creating a positive spiral of “loving” each other in very real and practical ways, in any context of small group (or one-on-one) interaction. This could make a lot of people more happy and productive with each other, even caring for each other when struggling competitively. Wow! Now all we need to do is get a grip on what affirmative interaction might be, for example, in our everyday work lives, how we could embrace the intent, and how we could make the intent come alive, moment by moment, day by day (whoa there, Nelly, that’s a song from the musical, Godspell)!
Unfortunately, this is already quite long, again, so the next time I will tell you about how I studied affirmative interaction with the help, support, and involvement of many other inquisitive souls. Yes, this was my dissertation, but I also put my money where my mouth was, walked the talk, after completing my studies, and led a reorganizing effort in a small manufacturing company to be more efficient, with higher morale, and oh yes, to make more profit. Honestly, my goal was to do my job the best that I could, and not to prove a theory. However, this was an overlay on everything else I had learned in a twenty year career of managing technical enterprises, so how could I resist, believing as I did that I really was on to something?
Don Austin, PhD